Love City 101, Part 1- Greetings, Niceties and Cover Ups

Love City 101, Part 1- Greetings, Niceties and Cover Ups

Good Morning All!  Last year, with all of the first time visitors, there seemed to be some frustrations bubbling in both the on-island resident community AND the long time visitor crowd.  I think something that gets overlooked here, because it does seem very much like the states, is that there are cultural norms and niceties here that stem from the heritage of native Virgin Islanders.  These daily habits and, on the other side, snafus, often do not get translated to folks who have just moved to island or are only here for a short time during their first visit.

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I know, I know, there are those who simply exhibit bad behavior and, unfortunately, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks when they are simply visiting for a week.  But, I think that a lot of the cultural norms and daily rituals that we have here often remain overlooked by visitors and new comers simply because they don’t know!  So, as we get into another seemingly BUSY season over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing what I can in order to help make your stay on St. John as Love City NICE as it can be!  Because Love City boils down to the kindnesses of the people who live here.  And, you gotta give it to get it!

  If any of you have ever vacationed in, say, France or Hawaii, you’ll likely remember that you received a better reaction from the locals when you were working to embrace their culture.  Even just a little bit.  A broken Bon Jour or a stumble through the French menu will get you a lot farther in Paris than immediately asking for a menu in American English.  A simple Aloha or Mahalo might earn you a smile instead of a frown on Maui.  So, the same goes with the Virgin Islands.  Embracing the culture a bit will get you a long way with a smile on your face.  Something as simple as a proper greeting will start each on island interaction with your best foot forward!

A simple greeting will go a long way.  Use Good Morning, Good Afternoon or Good Night…Or Good Day if you are confused about the time 🙂 

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I know, I know…I fumbled through it for my first few months here (especially the Good Night!).  I forgot it a lot and definitely recognized my plunder each time with a sneer from the bank teller or post office clerk at my mistaken lack of a “hello.”  But, over time, it became embedded in my language as many habits do become ingrained in your daily life with proper practice…And missteps.

So, work on this the next time you are visiting…Good Morning, Good Morning (Or afternoon or night!).  Say it to everyone you interact with…from bartenders to shop keeps to rental car agents to the ferry crew to passers by on the streets.  It is the norm for both friends and strangers.  Wishing someone this simple blessing before jumping in to ask for what you need will create a more pleasant encounter.  It shows respect.  It shows kindness.  It shows that you have at least attempted to educate yourself a bit about the way things work here in Love City prior to your visit 🙂

Last spring, I wrote up a documentary about this wonderful cultural norm…I’d advise checking out that post and watching the beautiful film!

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Another big topic of discussion last season was “What to wear?” when you are anywhere in town.  No shirt, no shoes, no service is the norm across all businesses in the Virgin Islands, but it is taken a step further here.

If you are in town or going in to any business, including boarding a taxi or a ferry, COVER UP!

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Not appropriate in town attire 🙂

I understand the misinformation on this.  Especially with the influx of visitors we have here who are used to vacationing in Florida or North Carolina beach towns.  We used to go to Myrtle Beach every year when I was a kid and I rarely remember wearing anything but a bathing suit.  It isn’t called for and no one really cares.

But, the Virgin Islands isn’t Daytona or Myrtle Beach or Destin.  As much as Cruz Bay might FEEL like a beach town where Kenny Chesney might unleash the notorious “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem,” chorale, it is far from that.  Kenny Chesney is not the culture here, contrary to popular belief.  Virgin Islanders are a more conservative people (maybe except during Carnival :)) and the culture here calls for coverage as a note of respect.  And, it is actually ILLEGAL to be non-compliant with this rule!!!

US Virgin Islands Code Title 14, Chapter 51 states the following:

…who shall appear upon any public street or thoroughfare within town limits of any town in the Virgin Islands in bathing costume or any similarly abbreviated attire such as to offend public decency.

Violators of this rule may be subjected to a $100 fine and up to 90 days in jail!  And, even if you don’t have a run in with Johnny Law, its an incredibly embarrassing encounter for both you and the shop keep or bar tender when someone needs to ask you to put some clothes on in public.  So, here are some general guidelines for covering up and keeping in line with the norms…

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Perfect in town attire!
  • When you are in a town…Cruz Bay, Coral Bay, St. Thomas, etc…you should be covered from your chest to your thighs.  Guys, that means a shirt.  Ladies, a sundress will do!
  • The see through or mesh bathing suit cover ups are not deemed as “appropriate.”
  • If you are boarding a taxi or getting in your car at the end of a beautiful beach day, throw on your covering before you get to town.
  • If you are going into a place to conduct business (BMV, Bank, etc.) try to steer in the direction of something more conservative.  Short sleeves instead of tank tops, khakis instead of cut offs, etc.
  • Never, ever, ever approach a bar, restaurant or other business in only your bathing suit or swim trunks!

I know this all seems like a bit much, but it isn’t like the ask is to be covered in long sleeves and pants.  If you wouldn’t go into a casual eatery or a grocery store in your home town wearing the item in question, then it probably isn’t appropriate here.  A general rule of thumb is to make sure your chest and your behind are covered in town.

Speaking of coverings…

Yes, we still have a mask mandate. 

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Yes, we are all tired of enforcing it.  No, we do not know when it is going away.

In July of 2020, the mask mandate went into effect and the Executive Order states:

It is mandatory that masks or face coverings over the nose and mouth are to be worn:
• When out in public places
• Upon entering any business, and kept on, including in bars and restaurants, unless
when eating or drinking, or when exercising as long as 6 ft physical distance can be
• At work where there are others in the same workspace
• At schools, daycare centers, camps, recreational facilities
• In places of worship and at funerals
• On ferry’s and other modes of public transportation
This does not apply to children under 2 years of age.

No, you do not need to wear a mask at beaches or on trails as long as social distancing can be maintained unless you are using a public restroom facility or approaching a concessionaire.

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I know, that as mask mandates in the states (in most places) have gone away, many visitors have left their masks and their habits of wearing one behind as they depart for a beautiful beach vacation.  But, the Governor continues to fight like hell to keep our numbers down and our beaches open and the mask mandate is, unfortunately, a piece of that puzzle.  I have high hopes that one day soon we can leave the masks blowing in the wind, but it is still required in the Virgin Islands for now.  You know I will update you with glee when that portion of the regulations is over 🙂

I do sincerely hope that this information is useful and not too preachy!  Frustrations were so high last summer over the lack of understanding of the simple cultural norms on St. John that my intent with this series is to simply educate in an attempt to keep everyone smiling….Both residents and visitors!  Next week, we will get into the wildlife, both under the sea and on the land and how we can better protect our furry and seafaring friends.  Have a great weekend everyone!

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20 thoughts on “Love City 101, Part 1- Greetings, Niceties and Cover Ups”

  1. Great reminder! We’ve been to VI (Cruz Bay) several times and appreciate the culture, mandates, whatever you want to call it! We LIKE the rules!
    See ya in March!!!

  2. Well said Hillary!
    As a long time visitor and home owner on the island and visiting Love City this past two years NUMEROUS times (which kept our sanity) has definitely seen a case of some bad actors. Far cry from when we first discovered this idealic island almost 15 years ago. With the incredible increase in traffic this happens. Many of our friends in the service industry there are forced to become server, shopkeeper, security sometimes with little to no appreciation. $$ Let’s do our best to continue the culture that has attracted so many for so long. Thanks for this communication.

  3. Your manner of conveying this information is kind and congenial. Those of us who have visited this lovely island for ten years or more have no excuse for poor manners. And the mask mandate makes extremely good sense.
    I hope you’re not just preaching to the choir and that first timers will check out this message thoroughly. Thank you.

  4. I love this! A as regular visitor since 2007 this past summer was soooooooo different and not in a good way ;( Before we traveled the first time, we did our homework. We wanted to fit in and be respectful to those that call STJ home. I was so saddened of the level of disrespect, rudeness and sense of entitlement that I assume were 1st the timers. I witnessed rudeness to visitors as well and staff. Did they forget it was pandemic, staffing shortages and everyone was doing their best (island time – relax) If you want 5 *’s – stay in Miami, this is not your place! The trash on the beaches, not to mention the poor turtles at Maho on multiple days being stalked and touched. I saw people fishing off shore – what! Yes, I did advise it was protected. I love STJ and the beauty of it all. Sadly, the last trip soured it for us. I am heart broken to say we may not be back this year. Crushed. I hope STJ returns to what I love soon.

  5. Good evening! Such a great reminder. Thank you My high school French went a long way in Paris and respect of ones culture goes a long way everywhere. Looking forward to a visit!

  6. ‘Good day’ may cover all times of the day and of course with a smile when saying it !
    Ur article is superb and has been in practice, for me, ever since I did step foot in the VI’s back in ’72’.
    The old say used to be…
    “Don’t come here ‘meson’ and bring ur bad habits from the mainland”
    Another word, we respected the local culture and it’s ways. We hoped that we would be accepted as we really were trespassing on the life of the Virgin Islanders, which are: Crucians, St.Thomians, St.Jonians.
    I remember when St.John did not have a cigarette but on the ground. That’s how clean ‘Love City’ used to be !
    Good day,

  7. This was a wonderful reminder to all of the very special traditions and norms of Love City — things that make it such a special place. I appreciated it and only hope that the right people read it and take it onboard.

  8. Very useful to some , but unfortunately the other “some” are not the ones reading your blog.
    We have a 5 10 rule where I work . 10 feet away from somebody you smile and acknowledge them , 5 feet away you say “Good Morning/afternoon whatever. I have no problem acknowledging people around me – but then I’ve always been in customer service – that’s what you do.

  9. Great article. Long term visitor here – just got back from a week on island and wow how the clientele has changed! The entitlement of first time visitors was unreal. We chatted with many service industry staffers who were exhausted from having to debate mask mandates (among other things) with visitors. One person even used the term “soul crushing” when talking about having to serve these folks at a well-known spot in Cruz Bay. Vacation spots aren’t immune to the staffing shortage, and it was so sad seeing first hand how disrespectful some tourists were being when speaking to their server/bartender. Just because it’s your vacation, doesn’t mean that you are the most important person in the world! Big props (and alllll the tip money) to the incredible folks keeping things running down there.

  10. Thanks Hillary, not “preachy” at all. With all of the new visitors in the past year, it needs to be said. I watched a skimpy bathing suit clad lady get asked to leave my favorite italian restaurant and “get dressed and you can come back”.

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